Writing
And The Title Is…
December 7, 2017
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I have finally come up with the title of my adult fantasy novella. Well, actually, I came up with it a couple of weeks ago but today I’m announcing it to the world. Drum roll, please…

THE TEMPEST GUILD

One of the unforeseen things about writing and self-publishing a novel is all the stuff that goes into it that has nothing to do with writing the book itself. Coming up with a title, designing a book cover–and most importantly–writing the blurb. I could have written a whole other novel with the time it’s taken to work on these other book-related tasks. But then again, that’s what this is all about, right? A learning experience.

For those wondering how to come up with a title, here’s what I did: I came up with a couple of theme words that pertained to my novel and then I opened up Thesaurus.com and kept digging around for words that fit what I was looking for. I would write them down, one at a time, as I found ones that may work. Then it was just a matter of putting them together and seeing which ones worked together the best. I’m not sure that process will work with all my titles, but it sure did the trick this time (at least I think so). And, how many more times can I fit the word “work” into this paragraph?

Oh, and I changed the series name from “The Chronicles of Talam” to “The Talam Chronicles.” I think the latter sounds more powerful and action-oriented.

David

Writing
Blurb is the Word
November 29, 2017
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So for that past two weeks, I’ve been working on the blurb for my fantasy novella. In all seriousness, I think it’s harder than writing the book itself. Having to whittle down the plot and four POV characters to just 150 words is a nightmare, but boy is it a great exercise. I’ve learned more about my characters and the plot of the story than I have done while outlining and writing three drafts. The blurb process forces so much clarity of character and story that I realized that it’s the first thing I should write before attempting the first draft.

A big help structuring the outline came via Libbie Hawker’s book “Gotta Read It: Five Simple Steps to a Fiction Pitch that Sells.” In her book, Hawker describes how a blurb should be structured using five simple, yet important, questions about your novel:

1. Who is your main character?

2. What does she want?

3. What stands in her way?

4. What will she do, or what must she do, to achieve her goal?

5. What is at stake if she fails?

What I did was answer these five questions for each character and then I wrote a paragraph for each laying out the structure above. With four POV characters, obviously using four such paragraphs would be way too long, not to mention there would be no room to mention the plot. But it gave me a clarity of each character’s predicament and how they relate to the plot for me to go ahead and take a stab at the blurb itself. I ended up with one that was 365 words in length. Way too long for a blurb, which really should be no longer than 100-150 words.

It was in the cutting down from 365 to 150 that I found the holes in my book’s plot as well as what was missing from my character’s arcs. A negative consequence was that when all was said and done, my 150-word blurb resembled the plot of A Song of Ice and Fire. This happened because I chose to focus on the plot instead of the characters and their stories. So back to the drawing board I go. Oh, and a word to the wise. These blurbs are perhaps the most important part of marketing your book. In addition to a nice cover, the blurb is what’s going to sell the book, so you should take lots of time, do many revisions, and get lots of feedback before deciding it is complete.

David

Software Writing
Using BetaBooks For My Beta Readers
November 14, 2017
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BetaBooks

A few weeks ago I sent out a request for Beta Readers on the Facebook group I belong to and received a few replies from people who were interested in reading my WIP. I was excited and scared at the same time, as it was the first time putting my fantasy story out into the world and I didn’t know how it was going to be received. I have done several Beta reads for other authors and the process usually involves sending over a pdf or a link to Google Docs. But over the summer, I had discovered a new product on the internet titled BetaBooks.

BetaBooks is a web-based app that lets you break your WIP up into chapters, create specific feedback questions for those chapters, and then send invites to potential Beta Readers. Once they accept the invitation, the Beta Reader can read as many or as few chapters as they desire.

BetaBooks Feedback

And after each chapter, there’s a box with the author’s feedback questions and a box for the reader to submit their questions/feedback. As an author, you can receive emails whenever a reader leaves feedback for one of your chapters. And the cool thing about the feedback is that there is a drop-down menu that lets you organize each piece of feedback and let you decide if it’s a piece of advice you want to act on or just read it and move on.

BetaBooks Comment

I have found that feedback mechanism quite useful as I go back and edit my novel. While I have Scrivener open with my novel, I keep the feedback page in BetaBooks open in a browser so that I can make sure I incorporate that feedback into the next draft of my novel. Once I’m satisfied that I have covered the feedback, I mark it as “Done,” refresh my browser, and the next chapter’s feedback moves to the top of the list. Once all the feedback has been marked Done, I know that I have covered all the feedback from my Beta Readers.

As this is my first time through the Beta Reader process, I have nothing else to compare it against. I do know that when I read someone else’s WIP in Google Docs, I make extensive use of the comment feature and then I have to send a separate email with my overall concluding feedback. With BetaBooks, the reader cannot make inline comments as of this writing, but the end of chapter feedback, and having it tailored to my specific questions, makes organizing reader comments a breeze.

If your novel is ready for the Beta Reading process, I highly suggest giving BetaBooks a try. Their free version allows you to invite up to 3 Beta Readers and have one book available at a time. If you have multiple books or want more than three readers, you can subscribe to the service for $14.99/month. The cost is well worth it, IMHO. I can’t imagine doing the Beta Reading process any other way.

David

Writing
And Now, The Editing Phase
October 23, 2017
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I finished the first draft of The Chronicles of Talam – Book 1 at the end of July. I had set an aggressive 15-day goal to write and finish a 40,000-word novella before leaving on a family vacation as I wrote about before. During the month of August, as I took a hiatus from writing and let my first draft marinate for a while, I took up drawing. It was something I’ve always loved to do but never quite continued with it long enough to get proficient at it (sounds familiar to any number of my life’s pursuits). I had to stop, though, as I developed Trigger Thumb from overuse (think carpal tunnel for the thumb).

At the beginning of September, I printed out my first draft, grabbed a yellow notepad, and sat down and read through my first draft. I found myself not editing much in terms of large-scale plot or character points and that worried me. This was the first draft, after all. It’s supposed to be messy and need lots of cleanup. What’s wrong with me? Do I think too highly of myself and my writing? I don’t think so. For one thing, this is the fourth attempt at this particular story so I think I have the characters and the plot down rather solidly. It’s as if I had outlined the entire thing multiple times. I also tend to like what I write and that’s a problem. This is why I recently just finished reading the rest of the first draft and I am now in the editing stage. So far, it seems to be going rather swiftly. I think the fact that its a novella has something to do with that as well. 40K words is not a long book and it seems quite manageable from an editing perspective.

Of course, the real test will be the feedback I receive from Beta Readers and a few trusted friends and family to see just how close or far I am to a completed story. If anyone is interested in being a Beta Reader, contact me and I will add you to the list.

David

Writing
Outline Your Novel Using a Floating Outline
August 17, 2017
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As I’ve written a few times before, I’m a pantser who struggles with outlining. I’ve tried using beats from the famous screenwriting novel “Save the Cat.” I tried Libbie Hawker’s method from her book “Take Off Your Pants.” I’ve written a detailed synopsis and tried to extract a story from it with no luck. Why, if I’m a pantser, don’t I just write like a pantser?

In the ebook self-publishing world, volume of output matters and is a great harbinger on your chance of success. To be as prolific as I plan to be–put out a new book every 3-4 months–I’m going to need to write a shit ton of books in a short amount of time, and when you write pantser style, the rewriting process can take up to three times as long as the original first draft. I have no time for that. So what have I settled upon as my outlining method of choice?

Photo by Sticker Mule on Unsplash

It’s something I stumbled upon while watching one of Brandon Sanderson’s lecture videos and it’s called a Floating Outline. I’m not sure if I understood his process one hundred percent correctly, but the takeaway was more than enough to get me started and put my own little twist on things. Who knows, maybe I got it exactly right and am doing it just like Brandon?

In the larger view of things, I adopted Brandon’s approach: he outlines his plot and story but he discovers his characters as he writes. So he’s kind of a mix between a plotter and a pantser. He plans out his story in detail and then he goes to work outlining using the Floating Outline approach. Basically, he has a notebook full of “awesome” scenarios or scenes that he wants to happen in his book. I have come to call them “Plot Awesomes” (as I think about it, I think Story Awesomes would be better). The idea is to write out an awesome scene you want to happen in your book, say, the two lovers finally share a kiss. So that would be the header of that particular Plot Awesome. Underneath that, you start adding bullet points in backward order that would lead to your awesome scene. Let’s take a look at an example:

A & B Finally Kiss

  • A saves B’s life
  • B tells A to get out of B’s life
  • A and B end up in same location
  • A …

Those are just some quick and dirty examples off the top of my head. I would finish that list and then move onto the next Plot Awesome. Usually I’ll have a minimum of 4 Awesomes I want to happen. One is usually romantic in nature, the other serves the over arching plot, and then the rest are things that round out the story. I will then go back and edit them to make them a bit less general and more specific. So at the end, the idea is you have an awesome climax scene and the pieces it will take to get there. As Brandon says, he outlines backward but writes forward.

Using Scrivener, I then start creating Chapter folders and inserting at least one bullet point (starting from the bottom up), sometimes more, in each chapter. What’s cool is that they can be combined so that you are advancing two or more different Awesome plot points in the same chapter without it feeling forced. I then cross out the bullet points as I use them and create another Chapter folder and use one or more bullet points, cross it off, repeat. By the end of the outlining process, I have my entire book outlined and the several different plot points/story lines meshed together naturally.

This was the process I used for creating the first draft of The Chronicles of Talam #1. I would say I followed my outline pretty rigidly until I got 25% into the book then I started to deviate as the story took off on ideas of its own. I still had the outline to use as a foundation but I would say that by the end of my first draft, I would say I stuck with 50% of my outline and the rest came about as I wrote. This process seemed comfortable to me and it allowed more of my creativity to come out during the writing process than if I just started out in full pantser mode.

Anyone else use a similar method to outlining their novels?

David